A vial of the Oxford-AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine is seen with injection supplies at a clinic in Winnipeg, Friday, March 19, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/John Woods

Pharmacies receive short notice about start of Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine rollout

Pharmacies receive short notice about start of Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine rollout

VANCOUVER — Pharmacies were given short notice about Wednesday’s rollout of Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine in the Lower Mainland for those aged 55 to 65, says the president of the British Columbia Pharmacy Association.

Annette Robinson said pharmacists had anticipated being asked to participate in the government’s vaccination program, but were told about Wednesday’s launch the day before.

“It was quite quick,” she said.

“We were asked to step up in a quick way and we’ve certainly done that.”

Robinson said pharmacies received thousands of doses of AstraZeneca but she couldn’t provide a precise number.

However, Robinson said she expected the current supply to be used quickly, within the next few days.

Participating pharmacies reported being overwhelmed Wednesday by people wanting to book vaccination appointments, she said.

The government announced its plan on Tuesday afternoon through a partnership with Immunize B.C. and the pharmacists.

Robinson suggested people consult the association’s website or the websites of pharmacies administering the vaccines for up-to-date information about booking appointments.

“Clearly, there is a lot of pent-up demand,” she said.

Robinson said the pharmacies are prepared and have experience with flu shots, including the most recent campaign where one million people were vaccinated.

London Drugs posted a message Tuesday saying all bookings at its three designated sites had been filled.

“As soon as the news was public all of our Lower Mainland British Columbia stores became inundated with customers wanting to book appointments,” it said on Twitter.

London Drugs said its three designated vaccination sites in Metro Vancouver have received limited allocations of the AstraZeneca vaccine but online appointments can be booked when more supply is available.

The province bumped up its age-based immunization plan for Oxford-AstraZeneca shots after concerns about rare blood clots prompted the National Advisory Committee on Immunization to pause the use of the vaccine for anyone under 55.

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry says in a news release that the vaccine remains highly effective and its benefits for those over 55 far outweigh the risks of COVID-19 infection.

More than 99,000 B.C. residents have been diagnosed with COVID-19 since the start of the pandemic and infections have surged across the province in recent weeks.

The Lower Mainland, where the vaccines are being offered, is also the highest transmission area, Henry and Health Minister Adrian Dix said in a written statement.

British Columbia’s immunization plan is running on two tracks, with both an age-based program and another for front-line workers.

Vaccines are currently available for anyone 73 and older, Indigenous people over 18 and those who are clinically extremely vulnerable.

Front-line workers who were to receive the AstraZeneca vaccine remain a priority and will get their shots as more vaccines arrive, Dix and Henry said.

“Right now, we are waiting on Health Canada’s recommendations to determine what adjustments we may need to make to this immunization stream, as a result of the safety signal for those under 55.”

The province remains on schedule to administer a COVID-19 vaccine dose to everyone who is eligible and wants one before Canada Day, the statement said.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 31, 2021.

The Canadian Press

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